Can The Media Stop Giving That White Supremacist Nobody A Megaphone?

Can The Media Stop Giving That White Supremacist Nobody A Megaphone?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

After more than a year of glossy profiles and sexy photo spreads, the media is once again falling in love with a certain white supremacist dork who’s managed to bilk the press for more free PR than a Kardashian cousin.

We won’t mention his name or show his picture, because we don’t want to contribute to the very problem we’re criticizing, but for god’s sake, please stop giving free press to this man.

CNN dedicated an entire segment to the nazi dork in April. TNT, in its ill-advised discussion on race by Charles Barkley, did so in May. Since the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville two weeks ago, this same idiot has been given coverage in The HillIsraeli televisionABC NewsNPR, and the New York Times which, in a now deleted tweet insisted we “read about an NYT reporter’s conversation with [the white supremacist dork] in this week’s Race/Related newsletter.”

All seemingly in an effort to get their “side” of the story, as if the issue of people’s baseline humanity is a breezy policy difference worthy of debate.

ABC’s Nightline sat a random antifa “representative” down across from the white supremacist dork at a picnic table to hash out their differences. Again, the presumption is that a pro-eugenics, pro-genocide position is somehow on the same moral plane as those who oppose eugenics and genocide, or that there’s something to be gained by talking things out.

This comes after a torrent of Teen Beat-like profiles in the leadup to the 2016 election in Mother Jones, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times.

What’s the point of all of this? What goes through an editor’s or producer’s head when, in the wake of a neo-Nazi terrorist attack, they reach out to a neo-Nazi for comment? The pathological “both sides”-ism that infects our journalist class is uniquely unsuited for these times. Much like NPR’s institutional refusal to call Trump’s most egregious lies lies or the New York Times‘ desire to contrive goodin Trump’s first 100 days, the desire to seek out white supremacist voices on the subject of white supremacist violence is at best, morally negligent, and at worst, fascist propaganda.

The “debate” ought to be, “What’s the best way to combat these forces?” not “Hmm, what makes neo-Nazis tick?”

A similar phenomenon occurred in the build-up to the war against ISIS, where the media mindlessly replayed ISIS snuff videos on loop for over two years, serving as a primary distributor of its propaganda. In a rush to rack up sensationalist clicks, no one in these media organizations stopped to ask what part they played in ISIS recruiting efforts. The following of radical imam Anjem Choudary doubled in less than four months after he was featured nonstop on print and cable media.

Just the same, the white supremacist dork’s follower count on Twitter has gone from under 6,000 to 73,000 in the year and a half since the mainstream media decided to make him the poster child for sexy, bad boy hatemongering.

This isn’t to say white supremacists should be ignored. It’s important the media highlight their scope and growth and the danger they pose. What isn’t needed, however, are glossy, sympathetic profiles of their self-appointed leader or to treat them as simply one side of an ongoing debate in urgent need of media parity.

Twice As Many Americans View North Korea As A Critical Threat Than Can Find It On A Map

Twice As Many Americans View North Korea As A Critical Threat Than Can Find It On A Map

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

recent poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 75 percent of Americans list North Korea as a “critical threat” facing the United States, up from 55 percent just two years ago. The same poll found that 40 percent of Americans support conducting preemptive air strikes on North Korean “nuclear facilities”—a move that would effectively start and all-out war on the peninsula.

Contrast this poll with another one from March showing that just 36 percent of Americans can locate North Korea on a map. This means that there are more people in the United States who want to launch a unilateral, unprovoked war against North Korea than even know where North Korea is. This massive gap—between our collective desire to bomb something versus not having a clue what that something is—is stark evidence of a colossal media failure in the United States, a media failure that, as a rule, decontextualizes the “crisis” in North Korea and strips it of all political nuance.

Routinely, the media frames the US as responding to North Korean bellicose as if they are the ones initiating conflict out of thin air. Take, for example. President Trump’s recent threats to reign “fire and fury” upon North Korea, which was largely presented as a response to a hostile and unstable Kim regime.

“Trump Warns North Korea: Stop Threats,” the Wall Street Journal front page read Wednesday. This gives people the distinct impression the United States was just minding its own business and some random lunatic decided to provoke an otherwise benevolent and innocent Trump administration. Missing from this narrative is that North Korea’s “threats” are almost always qualified as defensive in nature, which is to say they are always on the condition of a US first strike.

This is consistent with a broader historical context that’s never provided. Rarely does the media mention that the Korean War never ended and the destruction the US leveled against the peninsula—while largely forgotten stateside—is still very fresh in the minds of both South and North Korea.

Rarely is it mention in the media that during the US bombing of Korea from June 1950 to July 1953 the US military, according to their own figures, killed approximately 3 million Koreans—roughly 20 percent of the population—mostly in the North. This is compared to 2.3 million Japanese killed in the whole of World War II, and that included the use of two nuclear bombs.

Rarely is it mentioned the US dropped more bombs and napalm on Korea in the early ‘50s than it did during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II—635,000 tons of munitions and 32,557 tons of napalm.

Rarely is it mentioned that, according to Dean Rusk, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” Rarely is it mentioned that after running low on urban targets US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams, flooding farmland and wrecking crops. Rarely is it mentioned the CIA oversaw South Korean death squads that killed thousands on suspicion of being communists.

Now, this may not matter to the casual media consumer but it matters a great deal to the North Korean government and this historical context goes along way explaining the martial posture on display. If this seems like ancient history we can go back to just 1994 when House Republicans helped torpedo a nuclear deal then-President Clinton arrived at with the North Koreans in good faith. Or to 2002 when George Bush listed North Korea in its “Axis of Evil” hit list then proceed to invade and destroy one-third of that list. Or to 2011 when NATO bombed Libya into a failed state six years after Gaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions in earnest. The US has, for decades, given the North Koreans no reason not to pursue nuclear weapons and contextualizing the situation as such would, perhaps, reduce the amount of Americans eager to bomb Pyongyang without provocation or attack.

One doesn’t have to like or sympathize with a government to understand its motivation. Once one understands the history of the US’s war on Korea and internalizes the fact that the North Koreans don’t see the war as being over, their actions don’t seem irrational or unhinged—they seem like the last resort of a country that views itself, fairly or not, as under siege. If only the media could make an effort to reflect this context far more often, perhaps it would reduce the amount of people itching for war and—along with some useful visual aids—significantly increase the number of Americans who at least know where or what North Korea is.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

Jeff Flake’s Cosmetic Trump “Resistance”

Jeff Flake’s Cosmetic Trump “Resistance”

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Right-wingers attempting to brand themselves as anti-Trump is a grift we’ve seen dozens of times before––typically from media types such as Glenn Beck, David Frum, Max Boot, and Joe Scarborough. But rarely does one see it from a sitting senator such as Jeff Flake, the Arizona lawmaker attempting to take the mantle of his mentor, John McCain, as liberal and centrist media outlets’ favorite not-entirely-evil-Republican.

With the release of his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, Flake has managed in the past week to get puff pieces in the New York TimesPolitico(which he wrote himself), NPRMother JonesAPFox NewsUSA TodayCBS’s Face the Nation, the New York Times (again), and a long, sycophantic profile in the Atlantic.

It’s understandable why Democrats and their anti-Trump allies would welcome this—after all, the anti-Trump resistance needs all the help it can get. There’s only one problem: thus far, Flake’s opposition to Trump has been entirely rhetorical in nature. Great in interviews, good with op-eds, pleasant when entertaining Atlantic profilers––but when it comes to substance, opposing the actions by the administration in the Senate or any of his cabinet or Supreme Court or cabinet picks, he’s a reliable Republican apparatchik.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted, “has Jeff Flake done anything to use his powers as a United States senator to check Trump in any way?”

A cursory scan gives the answer no. Flake has, according to FiveThirtyEight voted in line with Trump 95.5 percent of the time, making him the eighth most reliable senator for the White House. Most noticeable among these pro-Trump votes was last week’s disastrous Obamacare repeal that Flake supported at every turn.

In addition, Senator Flake supported every one of Trump’s cabinet nominations, his unilateral bombing of Syria in April, and his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. These are some of the rare media “wins” for Trump and at each turn Flake was there to lobby in favor of them.

This isn’t, to be clear, about “purity politics.” No one is suggesting Flake has to be a card-carrying MoveOn organizer to be worthy of joining the forces against Trump. The issue is, has he done anything to actually undermine Trump in his powerful capacity as a United States senator? If the answer is no, one is compelled to ask, how big of a danger does Flake actually consider Trump? And, to the extent he does consider him a danger, does he think him less of one relative to the net utility of bombing Syria, slashing taxes for the rich, gutting the Affordable Care Act, and packing the Supreme Court with actuarially desirable far-right justices? The answer is clear since he continues, time and again, to back these policies, and in doing so, helping rack up the occasional but potent victory for Trump.

Like his media boosters, Flake’s primary moral criteria appears to be one of tone. The book is subtitled “a rejection of destructive politics,” in reference to Trump’s prickish demeanor, less so about the specifics of his policies. While it’s true Flake has objections to Trump’s approach to trade, immigration extremism and anti-NATO statements, he has little say on his recent trans military ban, his ratcheting up war in Syria and Iraq, or his pulling out of the Paris climate accords. Probably because Flake himself has terrible records on LGBT issueshasn’t met a war he didn’t like, and offered qualified approval for leaving the Paris Agreement.

As with Flake’s colleague John McCain, the scam is ultimately one of lowered expectations. Because Trump has sunk discourse and the broader GOP to Mariana Trench depths, anyone who vaguely gestures toward baseline decency is heralded as a brave truth-teller––an angle Flake exploits to help polish his image and garner goodwill from an otherwise indifferent or hostile media.

But this isn’t a scam the press has to indulge without getting anything of substance in return. If Flake is serious about opposing the administration’s agenda and making Trump’s ability to inflict pain on the country more difficult, he should ante up something, anything at all, beyond words. He can start by figuring out how to use his position of influence in the Senate to make life just a bit harder for Trump. Then maybe his status as a courageous anti-Trump voice will be more than a book tour sales pitch.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

NY Times Rewrites History Of Iraq War

NY Times Rewrites History Of Iraq War

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The New York Times’ Tim Arango took what could have been an interesting topic for war journalism—Iran’s increased role in Iraq—and morphed it into a revisionist history of American and Saudi involvement in the Middle East. In doing so, Arango paints the U.S. as a noble, freedom-loving nation on a mission to improve the lives of average Iraqis, and Iran as a sinister imperial force working to expand its sphere of influence across the region.

Arango sets the table by citing examples of Iranian influence in Iraq, framing the disparate motives at work. He suggests that the U.S. invaded Iraq for pro-democratic purposes, while Iran’s response to this unilateral invasion (which its government, of course, vehemently opposed) is portrayed as sinister and plotting:

When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.

From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.

There’s so much unmitigated ideology at work in these two passages, we need to take a minute to break it down. Let’s begin with the controversial assertion that the “[U.S.] saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East.”

This was the public relations talking point the U.S. gave for invading Iraq, but was it true? Does Arango provide any evidence or link to an analysis that shows it to be true? Dove beauty products tells me their mission is to empower women, but it seems far more likely it’s really to sell soap and that this line is marketing pablum. This is a distinction a freshman PR student can make, but evidently not Arango who, for some reason, thinks the same administration that repeatedly lied about Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction and Saddam’s links to al Qaeda was on the up-and-up about the pro-democracy motives behind their devastating invasion.

If one wants to know what role democracy played in Bush administration officials’ decision, perhaps Arango could have asked Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, secretary of state and key architect of the war. In an interview with ABC in 2011, Rice was crystal clear that “we didn’t go to Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqis. And I try in the book to really explain that that wasn’t the purpose.”

So, did the U.S. see Iraq “as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East?” Or did it really not care either way?

As I noted in FAIR last month, nominally down-the-middle reporters are allowed to mind-read U.S. policy makers’ motives so long as they conclude that those motives were noble and in good faith. Never are reporters allowed to ascribe sinister motives to U.S. officials—this is only permissible when covering America’s enemies— which Arango does in the next paragraph, insisting that “from Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq.”

Note that the U.S. did not seek to make Iraq a “client state,” but rather a “democracy.” Big bad Iran however (which not only had nothing to do with the invasion and openly opposed it), was plotting all along to exploit the U.S. invasion to establish a puppet regime. It’s a masterful work of 180-degree reality inversion.

The second thing wrong with the opening frame is that Arango mentions the “4,500 American lives lost” and the “$1 trillion spent” but makes no mention of the 500,000 to 1 million Iraqis killed. He mentions the use of chemical weapons but doesn’t say who used them—it was Iraq, not Iran. He also omits the country that supplied them to Saddam: the United States.

Throughout the piece, Arango couches subjective opinions on Iran’s sinister motives as something “analysts” say or believe. Yet the only analyst he actually interviews, Ali Vaez, works at the U.S-government-funded International Crisis Group and provides a vague quote about the Iran-Iraq war shaping Iran’s leadership.

Everything Iran does is painted as proactive, sinister aggression and everything the U.S. and Sunni monarchies do is done in reaction to this aggression. Take this dubious passage: “[Iran]’s dominance over Iraq has heightened sectarian tensions around the region, with Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia mobilizing to oppose Iranian expansionism.”

So here we have “Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia” “mobilizing to oppose” “Iranian expansionism.” There is no “Sunni expansionism” or “American expansionism” or “Saudi expansionism”—“expansionism” (whatever that means) is the purview of Iranian aggressors. Saudi Arabia flooding Salafist fighters into post-invasion Iraq is never mentioned. Saudi and Qatari backing of Salafist militias in Syria since at the very least 2011 is never mentioned. The U.S. invasion is not framed as “expansionism.” Iran always draws first blood, while Gulf monarchies, painted as the besieged victims of the Shia empire, are always reacting, “mobilizing to oppose Iran expansionism.”

The Times’ flubbed analysis has to be seen within the wider context of American designs in the region. Arango’s article serves primarily to advance the “Shia crescent” concept pushed by Gulf monarchies, neocons, Israel, and liberal foreign policy hawks. This narrative conjures a specter of Iranian influence from Tehran to Beirut, with total regional domination on the horizon. Stopping this sinister plot is the primary pretext for increased military involvement of the U.S. in eastern Syria, where American special forces have set up a de facto base and attacked Syrian and Iranian military assets. It’s also Israel’s justification for its stepped-up military activity in Syria, where it has been backing anti-Hezbollah, anti-government rebels in Southern Syria. The Times article, whether by accident or intent, props up the entire moral and political framework for increased U.S. militarism in Syria and Iraq as territorial ISIS faces its final months.

The problem with Arango’s analysis is not that Iran’s increased role in Iraq isn’t a story; it certainly is. It’s the revisionist notion that Iran had hatched a devious plot from “day one” of the U.S. invasion rather than react to shifting forces on the ground from an instinct to survive—especially after watching its two neighbors get invaded by the U.S. and its arch regional enemy, Saudi Arabia, fund and arm Salafist mercenaries throughout the Middle East. Throw in the absurd, debunked notion the U.S. was motivated by a desire to spread democracy and what you have is a deeply cynical piece of pro-Pentagon myth-making, instead of an informative look at Iran’s increased regional influence.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Media Boosts Trumpcare Promoter Without Asking Who’s Writing His Checks

Media Boosts Trumpcare Promoter Without Asking Who’s Writing His Checks

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

After weeks of radio silence from the press, it appears we are finally having some type of national debate over the newly renamed “Restoring America’s Health Care Freedom Reconciliation Act,” better known as “Senate Republicans’ backroom attempt to secretly overhaul the U.S. health care system.”

A recent report by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed on Monday that the GOP plan would leave 22 million people without health insurance and radically increase costs for a large swath of Americans.

Due to the bill’s unpopularity and the opaque nature of the sausage-making process, media outlets have been starved for pundits willing to go in front of a camera or put their names on op-eds to support it. Luckily, one stand-alone pundit is willing to go to bat for the toxic piece of legislation—Avik Roy, who managed to get the most coveted media spots in the universe this past week, writing in breathless, infomercial tones on the benefits of the bill:

Avik Roy’s primary function is to be the Reasonable Conservative and lobby centrists and liberals in their own media spaces that their worries about smoke-filled backroom Republican health care plans are unwarranted. This is done with a mix of “aw, shucks” nuance trolling and warmed-over discredited claims that health care coverage does not, in fact, affect mortality.

This isn’t a post about the substance of Avik Roy’s argument. Lots of otherwriters have written about his claims and sought to debunk them. This post is about whether the source of his funding and his sudden rise as the face of the otherwise faceless, secret GOP plan is worth an ounce of scrutiny. Given his enthusiastic and unqualified spin (even before anyone knew what was in the legislation), some, such as MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, have understandably begun to question Roy’s motives.

Avik Roy and others involved with his generically named Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity have ties to far-right billionaires through the Manhattan Institute and other organizations. FREOPP itself is associated with the Koch-backed State Policy Network, but FREOPP’s website does not reveal any of its donors, nor does it share its tax number, as most nonprofits do.

This could be because FREOPP is a new corporation (it was founded in May 2016), but neither the firm nor Roy responded to multiple questions via email and Twitter about who funds the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

Others are noticing the sudden importance of the heretofore obscure think tank. FREOPP is “a very official-sounding think tank that popped up in 2016 seemingly just to orchestrate a repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” The New Republic’s Cilo Chang wrote.

The online address for Roy’s “think tank” is for a P.O. Box inside a UPS store in Austin. The physical address on record for the state of Texas for FREOPP is Roy’s personal home in Austin.

Also unclear is whether Roy is helping write the legislation itself. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait notes, Roy certainly isn’t saying he isn’t:

Roy emails back: “As a matter of policy, I don’t discuss with the press my conversations with policymakers.” So, if you’re curious whether he helped write the plan he has been touting in a number of op-eds and interviews, Roy isn’t saying, but “yes” seems like a fairly safe assumption.

It’s romantic to think that a scrappy, startup think tank could have so much influence on the single most consequential piece of legislation in a generation, but an ounce of disclosure would be helpful. Transparency is key with all nonprofits and think tanks–why should Roy’s be any different? People have a right to know if he’s little more than a glorified lobbyist for a specific industry or billionaire or if he’s just an earnest, totally normal guy who just happens to like gutting health coverage for millions.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Why Are So Many In The ‘Resistance’ Ignoring Trump’s Iran Warpath?

Why Are So Many In The ‘Resistance’ Ignoring Trump’s Iran Warpath?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

There are roughly two categories of resistance to President Donald Trump that have emerged over the past few months. There’s the grassroots, earnest resistance marked by mass protests, populated by everyone from radicals to liberals to nonprofits to immigration rights groups to antifascists to the occasional Democratic politician with the backbone to stand up to the administration. Then there’s the Resistance, a loose confederation of media careerists who nominally oppose Trump, but do so often for the most cynical and ideologically incoherent reasons. The “Resistance” consists of, among others, discredited neocon David Frum, racist huckster Glenn Beck, blowhard Keith Olbermann, and former spook and backalley abortion advocate Evan McMullin.

These men comprise the worst of the “Resistance.” Their attacks on Trump, such as they are, are marked by Cold War-mongering, gendered insults, career revamping, and a dislike of a foreign policy they view as inadequately bellicose toward Russia, Syria, and Iran.

Stop with the purity tests! is a common rejoinder to these criticisms. We must, given the stakes, welcome all who oppose Trump, some might say.

But what use is that opposition when it stops at the water’s edge; when it cares only for Trump’s excesses at home but ignores—if not welcomes—excesses abroad? Consider this not an indictment on the whole of their ideology, but an honest question from a potential anti-Trump ally: why does the “Resistance” not seem to care about Trump’s Iran war path?

Since he was sworn in just under a month ago, Trump has signaled a radical departure from the Obama White House’s already hostile (though mild in relative terms) approach to Iran. Trump has surrounded himself with anti-Iran hawks like Michael Flynn (since departed for unrelated reasons) and his Secretary of Defense General James Mattis. Flynn stated time and again that Iran was “intent on having a nuclear weapon” despite all evidence to the contrary. Gen. Mattis, who, as Politicoput it, “has a 33-year grudge against Iran,” insists “the Iranian regime… is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

In their short time in office, Trump has put Iran “on notice” and leveled new sanctions nominally for firing a ballistic missile in January—an act that, according to NPR, did not violate the terms of the relevant U.N. resolution.

Trump has also surrounded himself with radical pro-Israel voices whose antipathy for Iran dovetails with their staunch loyalty to Israel’s far right. Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, once compared the Iran deal to the Dreyfus Affair, the infamous anti-Semitic persecution of a Jewish army captain in 1890s France, saying of the deal, “the blatant anti-Semitism emanating from our president and his sycophantic minions is palpable and very disturbing.”

“The relationship between America and Iran,” Saeid Golkar, an Iran expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, recently told Al Jazeera, “is getting very dangerous.”

One would hardly have noticed if they were only listening to high-status Resistance pundits.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote a much-praised 8,000-word piece warning of Trump’s “authoritarianism,” but didn’t mention Trump’s hostility toward Iran, his alliance with Israel’s far right, or any of his foreign policy aggressions once. The only time foreign countries were brought up, whether it was Russia or Honduras or Venezuela, was when Frum needed to use them as examples of backwaters Trump would turn us into, not targets of Trump’s hothead foreign policy.

For Frum, the vaguely defined concept of “authoritarianism” seems to apply only stateside. This is an exceedingly self-serving definition given that Frum worked in the Bush White House and is to this day an advocate for the devastating Iraq war leveled by his former boss.

Limiting criticism of Trump to the damage he will inflict domestically isn’t just bad politics, it’s also a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card for Frum and his neoconservative friends who helped turn Iraq and the Levant into a hellscape less than a generation ago. To this extent, Frum is far more concerned with protecting the GOP brand both in the future and down-ballot than he is with “resisting” Trump. This is why Frum is silent on Trump’s Iran war path and his increasingly close relationship with Netanyahu; Trump’s vision of power in the Middle East, sans perhaps Syria, is entirely in line with Frum’s.

Evan McMullin, who has been calling for the United States to bomb the Syrian government and overthrow Assad for years, routinely discusses how Trump’s posture on Russia will help Iran rather than reading the words the president actually states on the subject. On actual policy, on actual statements threatening Iran and ratcheting up tension, McMullin has little to say. McMullin even lavished praise on Trump’s selection of Gen. Mattis as Defense Secretary, largely because, again, Trump’s policy on Iran dovetails with what McMullin actually believes.

Keith Olbermann, who isn’t nearly as vile as other members of the faux “Resistance,” rants and raves about Trump being a “Russian whore,” but can’t take five minutes out to note Trump’s gutting of Obama’s hard-fought Iran deal. Nor does Olbermann have anything to say on Trump cozying up to the worst elements of the Israeli far right. Olbermann never tweets about or discusses Iran, Israel, or Palestine on his GQ web series. Like Frum, he limits his outrage over Trump to purely domestic issues.

Racist grifter Glenn Beck has used the anti-Trump sentiment to try to rebrand himself as a moderate, principled, conservative crusader, even given validation and airtime by liberal late-night comedian Samantha Bee for a much publicized anti-Trump campaign. Beck (as well as Bee) has been entirely silent on Trump’s anti-Iran rhetoric. Beck, showing the nebulous nature of the “Resistance,” has even praised Trump’s far-right Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and gone back to blaming Black Lives Matter for entirely unrelated crimes against whites.

The Washington Post, which raised money saying it would hold Trump to account, publishes op-eds on Trump’s Iran policy ranging from praise (Jennifer Rubin) to procedural handwringing (David Ignatius), but never offers any meaningful criticism. Liberal media watchdog Media Matters and Mother Jones have not covered Trump’s ramped-up hostility with Iran once. Not only has MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid ignored Trump’s surly Iran posture, she even praised Gen. Mattis as the man preventing Trump from “dragging us into bed with Russia.” A pro-Russia stance is, as a matter of dogma, always assumed to be worse than potential war with Iran.

The reason, if history is any guide, is that if someone in the media has three topics to choose from, and two of those topics don’t upset American national security orthodoxy, those two topics will always rise to the top of the press heap. This is why foreign policy, especially as it relates to Palestine, Iran, and Muslim countries in general, always gets lowest priority. Its moral hazard is seen most explicitly during the early Obama years when issues like drone killings, extrajudicial assassination and a sprawling war on terror largely went unquestioned. This is a bipartisan consensus of executive power that, predictably, later came back to haunt liberals after Trump was elected.

Just the same, because Trump’s hostility in the Middle East largely serves the bipartisan consensus on Iran and Israel, it is of extremely low importance to most high-status liberals and centrists who are far more concerned with scoring points and winning the latest 24-hour news cycle than building an ideologically sustainable opposition to the Trump regime and the Republican Party it serves. This myopia is understandable for party flacks and media hangers-on, but it doesn’t mean thinking adults should indulge it or its longer-term implications.

It’s important that the resistance to Trump, such that it is, highlight the clampdown on domestic opposition and liberal programs. But it’s equally important for the resistance not to lose sight of those outside the U.S. who will suffer greatly from Trump’s eagerness to ramp up tensions in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter Adam@AdamJohnsonNYC.

IMAGE: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves as he gives a speech on Iran’s late leader Khomeini’s death anniversary, in Tehran, Iran June 3, 2016. via REUTERS/Files

Right On Cue, Media Begins To Normalize Trump

Right On Cue, Media Begins To Normalize Trump

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Throughout the election, critics often savaged the media for “normalizing Trump,” broadly defined as the act of treating his rank sexism, xenophobia and fascist dog-whistles as just another policy difference against equally valid opponents. This trend, borne largely by a combination of cognitive dissonance and access, is being accelerated now that Trump has won the election, and its continuation, if left unchecked, could undermine opposition for years to come.

Oprah Winfrey, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, said Trump’s recent visit to the White House gave her “hope” and suggested he has been “humbled” by the experience. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins told his readers to “calm down” and that Trump wasn’t the “worst thing.” His college, Nouriel Roubini, insisted the Oval Office will “tame” Trump. People magazine ran a glowing profile of Trump and his wife Melania (though a former People writer accused Trump of sexual assault). The New York Times’ Nick Kristof dubiously added that we should “Grit our teeth and give Trump a chance.” The mainstays—Washington Post, New York Times and CNN—while frequently critical, are coving Trump’s transition as they would any other. President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have all issued statements recognizing Trump’s legitimacy and pleading we give him a chance.

Overall there’s a creeping sense that we’re stuck with Trump and we should make it “work” in some type of do-goody liberal appeal to patriotism.

But this is wrong, both tactically and ethically. Trump isn’t normal and he should never be treated as such, regardless of what President Obama and Clinton and Sanders say. These people are politicians, bound by a different covenant. The media, namely progressive media, is subject to no such charge. The overall message of normalizing Trump is that you can steamroll women, LGBT people, the disabled, Muslims, and people of color, yet everything will be okay so long as you win. Indeed, when asked if he thought his rhetoric had gone too far, Trump responded, “No, I won.” This is the logic of a fascist, and liberals are acquiescing to him by pivoting to “Trump as our kooky uncle” normalization mode.

In addition to it working in Trump’s favor in the present, it creates a moral hazard for all future Trumps: you can go as far right as you want and smear as many vulnerable populations you want, so long as you surpass 270 electoral votes come fall.

Had Trump lost, he would likely have been cast out of proper company, left to build his own Breitbart-like brand operating on the margins of acceptable opinion. Influential and profitable to be sure, but not mainstream. Political principles, to say nothing of morality, should not shift based on the outcome of an election. If Trump was a vulgar racist and sexual predator before November 8, he still is after, regardless of his new position.

So what to do?

Those not appealing to bromides about “working together” are staging massive protests throughout the country, from Austin to Portland to Kansas City to New York. As expected, the same pundit class that neither predicted nor adequately combated Trump’s rise are concern trolling those taking to the streets to show their revulsion. The Daily Show ran a boring segment hand-wringing over some overturned cars. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait insisted the people shouldn’t denounce Trump the day after the election because it was “a little soon.” Too soon? Given the stakes, one is compelled to ask, why wait?

Israel has already signaled it will expand settlements with the blessing of the president-elect. The cabinet looks like it will be stuffed with unqualified Trump cronies. Virulently anti-poor people Paul Ryan has effectively been put in charge of budget priorities and is floating Medicare cuts. A climate change denier is selecting the head of the EPA. Why wait to use every available avenue to undermine Trump on the altar of civility?

Instead of appealing to civility or plotting a run four years down the road, pundits who truly want to undermine Trump as much as possible should spend more time supporting their local anti-Trump protests and far less time treating Trump like just another politician. The left can only combat Trump by leveraging both its political and activist wings, not indulging in Sorkinesque gestures of “working together.”

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker/Files

White Billionaire Secretly Funds Surveillance Program Aimed at Baltimore’s Mostly Black Population

White Billionaire Secretly Funds Surveillance Program Aimed at Baltimore’s Mostly Black Population

Published with permission from AlterNet

Hedge funder uses private foundation to fund personal police project, circumventing democratic oversight.

Over the past few years, billionaires have unilaterally shut down a popular newsite, pushed common core on the Department of Education and steered candidates to a hardline position on Israel. Now one Texas-based billionaire (who began amassing his fortune at Enron) has singlehandedly spearheaded a massive spying program—secret until now—in a city 1500 miles away from where he lives.

John Arnold used his foundation to funnel $120,000 for an aerial surveillance program into a police charity, the Baltimore Community Foundation, which covered the costs for the department. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, which broke the story earlier this week, the program was not revealed to Baltimore citizens, and because it was funded by monies outside the normal channels of oversight, it did not need typical approval from elected city officials.

The surveillance program, implemented by Persistent Surveillance System’s Ross McNutt, involved a near-total visual surveillance of the population using a combination of on-the-ground cameras and cameras attached to a permanently rolling fleet of Cessna planes. The effort began last year when John Arnold heard a piece on the public radio program RadioLab featuring the technology, which was originally used in Iraq during the surge.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation told McNutt if he could find a city that would allow the company to fly for several months, they would donate the money to keep the plane in the air. McNutt had met the lieutenant in charge of Baltimore’s ground-based camera system on the trade-show circuit, and they had become friendly. “We settled in on Baltimore because it was ready, it was willing, and it was just post-Freddie Gray,” McNutt says. The Arnolds’ foundation donated the money to the Baltimore Community Foundation.

It’s unclear how Baltimore could be “ready and willing” when the public wasn’t informed. What McNutt appears to mean is that the Baltimore Police Department was ready and would not seek public discussion.

While initial reports did not explore the racial component, it cannot be ignored. McNutt’s “post-Freddie Gray” remark carries with it racial implications, namely that the monitoring tool might be used to control protests or unrest in addition to preventing crime. Arnold, who is white, is using his tremendous power and wealth to treat a predominately black city as a guinea pig in his crime prevention trial raises questions of undue influence and the circumvention of normal, local democratic processes. The democratically elected body that would normally need to approve such a measure, the Baltimore Board of Estimates, is currently 60 percent African American. The foundation that served as the conduit between Arnold and the department is not sanctioned by voters and according to its spokesperson didn’t even “know what the money was for.” If true, this would rest the oversight of the program entirely on the shoulders of the hedge fund billionaire who was paying for it and the Baltimore Police Department that managed it.

No doubt anticipating bad press, the Baltimore Sun ran a glowing puff piece on the Arnolds Friday, showcasing the charitable work they do in Maryland. John Arnold is also a major backer of charter schools, a movement heavily favored by the hedge fund industry. He has also spent a considerable amount of time and money pushing so-called pension reform, a long-term project also supported by many in the hedge fund industry.

With the expansion of police body cameras and surveillance in general, the ways in which monitoring can also help prevent police violence are at the center of this controversy. Power asymmetry can affect what cameras record and prioritize, and typically works in favor of those who control the technology.

“This whole city is under a siege of cameras,” Baltimore resident Ralph Pritchett told Bloomberg Businessweek in its report. “In fact, they observed Freddie Gray himself the morning of his arrest on those cameras, before they picked him up. They could have watched that van, too, but no—they missed that one. I thought the cameras were supposed to protect us. But I’m thinking they’re there to just contradict anything that might be used against the city of Baltimore. Do they use them for justice? Evidently not.”

h/t Bloomberg Businessweek

Photo via Flickr/Jonathan McIntosh

‘Idiocracy’ Is One of the Most Elitist and Anti-Social Movies Ever — Why Do Liberals Love Referencing It?

‘Idiocracy’ Is One of the Most Elitist and Anti-Social Movies Ever — Why Do Liberals Love Referencing It?

This article originally appeared in Alternet

Last week the screenwriter for the 2006 satirical science fiction comedy Idiocracy came out and said his film’s nightmare vision of a country run by improperly bred morons had indeed come true:

This was predictably followed by a series of editorials, think pieces and takes that seem to confirm this theory: Trump was a product of an indefinable “dumbing down” of our political environment:

Is Donald Trump the Herald of ‘Idiocracy’?

The Many Signs That Mike Judge’s ‘Idiocracy’ Is Upon Us

Idiocracy’ at 10: Mike Judge’s Cult Film Saw America Run by Imbeciles. Well…

The idiaccuracy of Idiocracy: When life imitates art for better or for the actual worst

It’s no surprise Cohen’s comments would go viral. They fit neatly into a superficially appealing notion that Trump, and the GOP at large, are animated by toothless rednecks and science-denying idiots. While there certainly are both of those, as well as outright white supremacists, in Trump’s constituency, wielding Idiocracy as a kind of political shorthand for a new, and therefore meaningful, shift in our political climate is both inaccurate and politically toxic for the left.

First of all, there’s the issue of the film’s pro-eugenic premise: The idea that some future world would be populated by dumb people, while inherently smug, isn’t necessarily right-wing. What makes the movie reactionary is the reason for this stupidity: that dumb people are breeding too much, a concept steeped in eugenics, one of the nastiest strains of elitism ever invented by humanity. This is the idea that society incentivizes the wrong people—”idiots”—to have more children, and by the laws of “evolution” this results in more idiots and fewer smart people. This is defined in the opening sequence by the pseudoscience of IQ and given a distinctly classist framing:

While the movie is savvy enough to avoid overt racism, it dives head first into gross classism. The problematic breeders all have hillbilly accents and live in trailers, while those whose eggs we presumably want fertilized epitomize WASP-y stereotypes.

The film’s legions of defenders call it satire. Well, the overt argument of the film is that good breeding prevents social problems. The so-called satire proceeds from there, presenting the ridiculous consequences of what will happen if we don’t rethink how society breeds. Satire isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for all vulgar and illiberal ideas; it has to be pointed and targeting the powerful, not targeting vague notions of idiocy illustrated by Appalachia accents and trailer parks without consideration for what caused the idiocy in the first place.

The message is cheap and easy and doesn’t require us to meaningfully challenge power, much less ourselves. Instead, we direct our disdain at the pseudo-problem of not being adequately intelligent, as if such a problem operates independent of material factors.

This sentiment is a common thread in left discourse. While nowhere near as reactionary or meanspirited, being smarter than the other guy was a feature of the Jon Stewart era of political comedy. Snark was more important than ideology, hypocrisy the only unforgivable sin and throwing clips together to make right wingers look like morons, rather than people with sinister politics, was the point of “The Daily Show” fan base’s political enterprise.

This was also seen in the left’s mockery of the Tea Party, often painted as illiterate boobs, despite the fact that those identifying as Tea Party members have, on average, higher income and education levels than the population in general. While education certainly doesn’t equate to intelligence, to say nothing of worldliness or wisdom, the fact that the Tea Party—and Trump’s voting base—are actually more educated than the general voting base affirms, once again, the problem isn’t “intelligence” but rather toxic ideology that operates independent of people’s IQ. As Michael Tracy notes, Trump actually won voters with post-graduate degrees in the state of Massachusetts, the “crown jewel of American higher education.” How many Nazis had anthropology or psychology degrees? How many were renowned physicists and musicians? Stupidity is not what created the rise of Trump, a deliberate poisoning of the discourse by the wealthy over decades combined with the left’s inability offer a clear class-based alternative has.

Smugness and irony are the intellectual run-off of a left incapable or unwilling to speak clearly in the language of class and class conflict. When we can’t, or won’t, direct our ire at those responsible for the vast majority of the world’s problems, namely the superwealthy and the capitalist system that props them up, we are left with nowhere to aim. Instead, we highlight the problem—in this case political ignorance—without addressing its primary culprit: the consolidation of media into large corporations, a PR-fueled think tank industry fed by billionaires designed to promote toxic right-wing canards, a sprawling Islamophobia industry, a corrupt campaign financing system, and a decades-long corporate assault on K-12 and postsecondary education.

The idea that a corrosive intellectual and political climate (for which Trump is the current avatar) can be chalked up to too many dumb people having kids or some vague, guiltless notion of “dumbing down”, rather than deliberate policy directives of the wealthy and their far-right media machinery – to say nothing of the inability of the left to adequately combat this machinery – is one of the more reductionist and politically useless ideas to populate our discourse. We are not living in an idiocracy, we are living in an oligarchy, for which political stupidity is one of many symptom caused by the large, malignant cancer of inequality and runaway capitalism.

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc.